Interview with Bill Seaman
© 2003 FDL
Spielmann With your recent installation work Exchange Fields (2000) you seem to have further developed the concept of multiplicity into another dimension by introducing sculptural aspects.
Seaman Indeed, Exchange Fields is a very big departure. I have created thirteen pieces of furniture/sculpture and each one has a sensor built into it. When one positions different parts of one’s body, for example the elbow, hands, or feet, or place the head in a certain way, this triggers a dance by Regina Van Berkel formerly of Ballet Frankfurt (Germany). There is a dynamic feedback loop between how you physically/experientially understand the work and how the media relates to that. At the same time I am reading a poetic text and you will as well hear a sung poetic text that is talking about differing relationships between fields of energy—between people and the apparatus, in short: human-computer relations.
Spielmann Where would you position yourself when you think about integrating the viewer physically and spatially in a computational environment?
Seaman Virtual space as an authored space is very different because you have to create the things from the pixel up. And I am trying to bring my aesthetic notions into that space. So it has a particular warmth and a beauty, which is different from what we might historically think about as virtual space. I think of this space as a continuum between the environment and the participant.
Spielmann Could you explain what you mean by behaviour and the shift of behavioural quality?
Seaman The computer more and more enables one to encode particular kinds of behaviour. Abstract physics might be manifested as a motion or form of behaviour but it might also change the scale or the volume of the sound or it might become something that literally reacts to you in a way, i.e. as if it is frightened and runs away or as if it is interested and attracted to you. Again, there is a lot of potential for different kind of behaviours in media. That is one side. We can also imagine that as Artificial Intelligence develops the participant might say a sentence and a whole media world would shift its set of relations based on how the system is programmed. For example, let us say I am interested in the computer listening for puns, and if the computer “hears” a potential pun then it might build a media environment out of elements that are based on that pun. So here is a very different structuring notion about the potential of media.
Spielmann I am in particular thinking of your new project with the telling title Hybrid Invention Generator. Could you give us an idea how the emergent, recombinant and behavioural modes will be worked out in the new piece?
Seaman Along with the idea of reactive media I am interested in certain kinds of encoded functionality. The new piece, Hybrid Invention Generator, explores the functionality of different inventions that have been historically constructed. I am authoring a conjunction code where the machine through a form of “re-embodied intelligence”, looks at one invention, then looks at another invention and says: what kind of functionality do I need to make a working bridge between these two inventions.
Spielmann Can you name machines that will be combined in the hybrid invention generator?
Seaman In Hybrid Invention Generator I might take a computer-based process and a machine that has a spinning wheel. The computer would say: what do I need to translate the computer code and make it talk to and control a spinning wheel. The computer will need to find those parts and will visualise them resulting in a new entity that might be called “computerwheel.” The user of the system can then abbreviate that term through another algorithm ending up with a new name for the hybrid device—”compuwheel.” What I am working on now is the hardest part, because, literally, I must define what the functionality is and how I can isolate particular functions—for example a car has five hundred inventions and not just one. So I am working on how to find the salient translation or connecting mode. In fact, I have decided to list many choices for the user and let them decide through interactivity. It could be that it is about the physics of the thing that generates heat or that it is about how one code talks to another code to make something work. I could choose something, which is about being large, and shrink it down to a nano size. In the end I have used a black box model: input + functionality = output, where the output of one device must potentially go through some form of translation to become the input of the other device. In the long run this seeks to be a universal system.
Spielmann As an artist you are really going into the machine structure itself, and there it seems that a new step needs to be taken in the computer machine age.
Seaman We can begin to talk about the genetics of machines, because if we think of the recombinant poetics in the earlier piece, The World Generator, in the new piece I am really taking things one step further in literally developing a poetics of hybrid functionality. There is a large history of different kinds of inventions and I am expecting to derive many new hybrid forms of devices—absurd machines, mechanic monsters and funny mechanisms as well as other interesting functional hybrids, through interaction. As we encode computers so that they can learn, eventually they may take on a kind of autonomy. It may be that computers develop something like a consciousness of their own—but this will be some years in the future. In terms of authoring new media in my work Hybrid Invention Generator, we might say that there is a “re-embodied intelligence” that enables the work to become functional—where I am investing much energy in loading operative key words and developing intelligent “conjunction codes” to become operative within the system. In turn this “re-embodied intelligence” derives a form of computer-based intelligent functionality. I certainly explore aesthetic strategies but I work with them in such a way that the computer itself can generate something based on those strategies through chance processes or a user can derive new devices through dynamic interaction. We are facing a new horizon of generative media relations. And yes, I am really trying to get to the level of making new programs and thus pushing the potentials of what the media can do. I am very interested in exploring what our relationship with media might become through interaction with these differing kinds of generative systems.